Skip to main content

Offenders: Employment and Education

Volume 635: debated on Tuesday 23 January 2018

8. What steps the Government are taking to improve access for offenders to employment and literacy education. (903491)

We have been doing three things on education: first, we have been making sure that governors are empowered to bring in their own education providers; secondly, we have been setting minimum standards, particularly on English language learning; and thirdly, through the new futures network, we have been connecting people to jobs.

I will!

My hon. Friend the Minister knows that 46% of prisoners have a literacy age of only 11. That proportion is three times the national average, which is still too high. Does he agree that that lack of literacy is often the reason why people go to prison in the first place? Will he explain in a bit more detail how we can reduce the illiteracy level so that we do not get reoffending?

As the Speaker implies in his reprimand to me, the causes of offending are many and multiple. Literacy is one of them, along with many issues relating to people’s health, education, social background and, indeed, our criminal justice system as a whole. Nevertheless, literacy is key to the reduction of reoffending because it is key to getting a good job. Good education provision in prisons, driven by governors, is going to be key to addressing this issue.

Can the Minister say anything more about the steps the Government are taking further to empower governors to deliver effective education and training in prisons?

Yes. We have empowered governors by having in place a new procurement contract, which means that we in the Ministry are going to do the central procurement bureaucracy, but the governors will be able to choose who they use to train and educate the prisoners. I saw a good example in Altcourse Prison in Liverpool of how governors are also going to be able to choose which companies to pair with. The excellent work on metal welding that I saw in Altcourse will really contribute to those prisoners getting jobs in the community.

Does the Minister agree that whatever plans he comes up with will require there to be enough prison officers on the estate so that they can release prisoners from their cells and take them to education and training classes? Does he now accept that the Government’s dash to reduce the number of prison officers has seriously hampered the chances of preventing prisoners from reoffending?

Among the many challenges that face education in prisons is the issue of numbers, which is why we have now committed to having 2,500 more prison officers on the estate, and we are delivering that ahead of target. That will allow us to have in place the key-worker programmes, in which each officer will be paired with six prisoners to guide them through the process.

Does the Minister accept that there are some good examples of literacy classes in prisons and reoffending rates thereby reducing? Will he undertake to ensure that best practice from throughout the United Kingdom is replicated so that reoffending rates fall across the UK?

That is absolutely true. An enormous number of programmes have huge success in reducing reoffending. For example, in Brixton prison, the Clink programme has reduced reoffending by 43%, but we can do much more to learn the lessons and have a proper standardised document that takes what works elsewhere and drives it through the entire system.

In order to encourage more businesses to take on ex-offenders, the Government need to lead by example and not just by exhortation. The Ban the Box initiative was brought in across Government a few years ago to encourage that. How is ex-offender employment going within Government and the public sector?

First, I wish to pay tribute to my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), who did this job far better than I will be able to do. One of the things that he introduced, which is going very well at the moment, is working with the Ministry of Defence. We are providing basic supplies for British military troops. It is something that is providing not just employment to prisoners, but the training and vocational skills they require for future employment.

Prisoners move round the prison system and, in the end, they come out of the prison system. One thing that consistently goes wrong is the lack of consistency in education and training between different institutions and in institutions once the prisoner leaves. The Minister has talked about power to the governor, but governors must work within the construct of the wider environment. What will he do to ensure that we have that consistency?

This is of course a balance between empowering the governor so that they can have a tailored programme that is flexible and works for the prison and having decent national standards. That will mean setting the curriculum at a national level, having the area managers engaged over the governors and also giving the governors the ability to have education that is relevant to their areas—skills that are relevant to the jobs outside the prison gates.